Farming must step up, sector heads say

Primary industry has been deemed an essential service during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Primary industry has been deemed an essential service during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
New Zealand’s lockdown over Covid-19 is an opportunity for the agricultural sector ‘‘to step up and remind our country how great we are’’, Farmlands chief executive Peter Reidie says.

The farm supplies co-operative has been identified as an essential service and will remain open, although customers have to call or email orders first, and a contactless collection process will then be arranged.

Yesterday, Mr Reidie said the world would still need to be fed and New Zealand was very well placed in terms of the quantity and quality of its produce .

‘‘Provided we can get things on boats ... we should keep on keeping on. That’s got to be the ambition,’’ he said.

It was a reminder of the importance of landowners, farmers and orchardists.

‘‘We will keep on as a country, on the back of that community, when other things are going to be more challenged,’’ he said.

As far as Farmlands’ was concerned, while it was business as usual that business would have to be done in different ways, removing the personal contact.

‘‘We have implemented strict protocols that eliminate physical interactions while still providing the primary sector with the goods and services they need to continue feeding our country and contributing to the world’s food needs.’’

However, while physical contact had to disappear, social contact should remain and everyone needed to keep talking to each other and looking after each other, he said.

When it came to the potential financial impact on the business, Mr Reidie said that was very challenging to read at this stage as there were ‘‘so many don’t knows’’.

There had been an increase in purchases this week and, just like the supermarkets, Farmlands’ message was that it would be open, would have supplies and would ensure people got what they needed to keep their businesses running.

It outlined its trading process in a letter to shareholders yesterday, the message coinciding with an open letter from the CEOs of Farmlands, PGG Wrightson and FarmSource, pledging to harness their collective supply chain to maintain productivity.

Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Davies said farmers needed to appreciate they were in the ‘‘luxurious’’ position of being classed as an essential service and that responsibility must be taken very seriously.

They had to ‘absolutely and utterly’’ minimise all contact with people, including contractors coming on-farm, if they were classified as an essential service.

Generally, farmers were going to be in a better space than many other people as they were used to working in isolation, having limited support in stressful situations, and also dealing with stressful situations which were out of their control.

They tended to have good coping strategies and they would have some support services around them, like the Rural Support Trusts which would continue to function. People could also contact Federated Farmers.

It would perhaps be a time to ‘‘rekindle some appreciation’’ from other sectors; those people who would be valued would be those that were ‘‘making stuff or doing things that support people making stuff’’.

‘‘Making products and goods that can be sold either internally or externally is going to be what keeps this business going. Tourism, travel and hospitality are all going to be in the doldrums for a considerable period of time.’’

The agricultural industry was fortunate that it was able to continue, albeit doing a few things differently, he said.

In an update to suppliers yesterday, Silver Fern Farms Co-operative chairman Richard Young said Silver Fern Farms Ltd was continuing its business operations as it had been classified as an essential service, as the primary industries, including food and beverage production and processing, were classed as a key public service.

‘‘There is no doubt that Covid-19 will impact us all over the coming weeks and months, but the continued operation of essential services will help New Zealand ride out the storm and bounce back after it has abated,’’ Mr Young said.

Silver Fern Farms was doing everything it could to ensure it continued to trade safely, while supporting the wellbeing and livelihoods of all those within and beyond the business, he said.

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